Schneider nets IIoT deal in world’s largest oil refinery

Schneider Electric has one won a big contract with Dangote in Nigeria, supplying its EcoStruxure system to the largest refinery in the world. Schneider’s products should improve safety and reduce downtime at the refinery enabling Dangote Group to reduce its costs of operation. The deal is important for Schneider due to the scale of the project. It should help to cement the company as a market leader in Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and will disappoint its competitors ABB, Honeywell, Siemens and Hitachi.

Nigeria is the 8th largest producer and exporter of crude oil, however, the country still imports 80% of its refined petroleum products. Once completed in 2019, the new refinery should turn Nigeria into a net exporter of petroleum products – demonstrating the importance of the project for the country and government.

The production capacity of the refinery will equate to 650,000 barrels of oil per day at current crude prices of $50 per barrel that’s $32.5m worth of resource being supplied to the site daily. Should any interruptions at the facility occur then this production will be reduced to zero, a significant cost in lost revenue in downtime for Dangote. To ensure the plant remains continuously operational, Dangote has chosen to implement Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS – a control system that utilizes Microsoft’s Azure for cloud-based applications.

Schneider Electric claims that the Foxboro system reduces the workload and risk to engineers. The system allows workers to see data collected by an array of sensors in the refinery across a software dashboard, enabling the process to be mostly automated and monitored on the DSC – meaning the plant’s operations can be managed with fewer workers.

The project also uses Schneider Electric’s SimSci software for modeling and simulating the operations of the refinery in real time, so that production can also be better optimized. Schneider Electric also claims that integrating SimSci with the Foxboro system will decrease downtime between repairs on the plant, as the modeling suite allows engineers to spot potential issues in advance and plan preventative maintenance accordingly.

Pionir, an industrial sensor maker, will supply its process analyzers to the Dangote refinery, to ensure its operations comply with environmental regulations. The Pionir process analyzers will also work as a sensor to check the refining process at the facility is taking operating correctly – as inefficient operation can greatly increase any business’ carbon footprint, especially an oil refinery.

Regulation around safety standards and emissions mean that refining plants all require networks of sensors – supporting the growth of IoT systems in the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas demands the same kind of predictive maintenance abilities as the Industrial and Manufacturing fields, with the added complication that an accident could leave them with the bill for a multi-billion-dollar clean-up operation, like BP. In terms of investment, it makes sound financial sense to prioritize IoT technologies that provide a near real-time view of operations, so that such incidents can be avoided.

Ever since the collapse of crude oil prices in 2014, there has also been an increased pressure to cut costs across the industry. Commentators attribute the recent decline in oil prices to a slowdown in growth of the Chinese economy and the rise of fracked gas in the US – sending the price of crude from a peak of around $110/bbl in Q1 2014 to $50/bbl by Q3 2014 – where the price remains today.

The collapse in the oil price helped to remove some 450,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry globally. Thanks to increasing levels of automation, many of those jobs won’t return as the industry recovers. Schneider is yet another example of a company facilitating the continued creep of automation using sensors and cloud data analytics.

Schneider Electric is based in France, and is a global specialist in energy management solutions, with revenues of €25bn in 2016. Schneider recently announced a partnership with the Nigerian utility Lagos State Electricity Board, to provide the DSC across the entirety of the utility’s network – displaying the general flexibility of the company’s products.

Last week, Riot reported on Schneider’s involvement with a microgrid project with Illinois-based utility Ameren, where the two companies partnered on a microgrid that could successfully operate independently of the energy management assets available on the grid. The project used Schneider’s EcoStruxure DCS to enable real-time monitoring and AC frequency balancing at a 50 kW building.

Schneider’s competitors, notably Siemens, used to be more heavily involved with providing physical infrastructure for the oil and gas industry, but have now moved away from that area to focus on marketing their software products that further support automation in the sector.

In other related news, Microsoft and Halliburton announced plans to partner to develop Azure-based machine learning products aimed at oil and gas companies. Halliburton is an oil field service company and already has an exploration and production monitoring product called iEnergy, and a software engine called DecisionSpace, that uses AI-based algorithms to fill in data gaps when modeling potential exploration areas – both of which will be hosted on the Azure Cloud.